Addicted to computer solitaire? Read my poem “Skinner’s Last Laugh”

Spider - black hairyAre you now or have you ever been addicted to computer solitaire? I certainly have been, especially when in the throes of clinical depression. I wrote this poem about my favorite game, Spider, and B.F. Skinner’s “Human Behavior” course at Harvard several years ago, before my books were published, when I was temporarily off Zoloft. I still have occasional relapses, but they’re few and far between. Blogging seems to be an excellent antidote to this solitary addiction.

B.F. Skinner

B.F. Skinner

 Skinner’s Last Laugh

 

I’m trapped again before this green computer screen.

The silken strands of Spider smother me,

engulf me in a mindless mush cocoon.

 

One win, I told myself – no more.

I’ll log on while my husband’s out – he’ll never know.

Now, half a dozen losses later, I’m still here,

forefinger on the mouse, stomach clenched.

The acid of self-loathing eats away my core,

erodes the creativity I used to prize.

 

My mind trips back in time.

I see a basement laboratory, low-ceilinged,

beneath the Harvard Yard well over forty years ago

when I, a sophomore Cliffie, braces barely off my teeth,

hunkered down at B.F. Skinner’s teaching machine.

A quaint, enormous turntable, a huge bronzed disc,

that called to mind the earliest Victrola.

A skinny rectangle of a window that doled out praise in tiny type

when I punched in the one correct answer. Guess wrong,

you had to try again ad infinitum. Conform, or fail the course.

 

Nat Sci 114, the catalog called it. Human Behavior.

Run the maze correctly, get an A. Positive reinforcement,

the Skinner gospel. We, the young lab rats,

laughed furtively behind the mad professor’s back.

So primitive, we thought, this pathetic stab at thought control.

Machines will never tame the human spirit.

Free thought rules.

 

I see him grinning down today, that mad professor.

His wiry grey hair, his horn-rimmed glasses, his skeletal smile.

The literate world’s a virtual Skinner box.

I’m one of countless millions clicking on that mouse,

running the maze that turns my mind to mush.

The machine’s more elegant, the graphics splendid.

The cards click crisply. When the final suit cascades into place, 

electric trumpets blare, and fireworks explode.

“You’ve won!” the screen proclaims in garish orange

that segues to magenta.

 

Somewhere Professor Skinner laughs in glee.

His thought-control experiment’s gone global, run amuck,

beyond his wildest dreams. And we, who used to dream,

crawl mindless through the maze.

 © Julie Lomoe

 

I did some online research awhile back, and learned that addiction to computer games has become a recognized clinical phenomenon. Fortunately I never got into interactive online gaming – like heroin, it’s something I’d never dare try, for fear of becoming fatally addicted. Social networking has some of the same alluring properties. Logging onto Facebook for the first time in a few days, I felt a definite rush. I like to think I’ve got it under control, but maybe I’m just in denial.

What about you? Have you ever been dangerously addicted to computer games? When did you hit bottom, and how did you recover?

10 thoughts on “Addicted to computer solitaire? Read my poem “Skinner’s Last Laugh”

  1. Dangerously addicted? No, won’t describe it like that, but, I did go through a phase where it was lots of fun to play. And, I played a lot, not online, but, on my computer. They were adventure games, like Myst. Actually, it was fun and a mental challenge. But, when other projects came along, I was able drop the game without any problem and move on. Having said that, gaming was my choice of recreational play. So, there’s my confession and I’m sticking to it.

    Best Regards, Galen
    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  2. Not video games, but I am hopelessly addicted to spider solitaire, so this poem really connected with me. I use it as a treat after I’ve done my “work.” And if you believe that, I’ll tell you another….
    Karen

  3. Your poem stirred up thoughts of some of the psychology and sociology research projects for which I served as one of many student guinea pigs. Even after all these years, the thought makes me feel anxious.

    The only computer game I was really, really addicted to was an old one called Digger — it faintly resembled the old PacMan games. I lost it for a long time when we upgraded computers, then found it again online in a newer version. I downloaded it, and have it on my computer, but I’m afraid to play it. Isn’t that bizarre?

    I played a lot of Minesweeper for a while, but that one doesn’t hold my attention like Digger did.

    As for Twitter and Facebook, I was a little obsessed right at first, but feel comfortable with the time I spend there now.

  4. Enjoyed Skinner’s Last Laugh. I escape with Solitaire or Spider Solitaire when my mind goes blank. Sometimes in the middle of the game the word or idea I’m looking for comes to me, other times, I play another game and then another, and another, and…

  5. Hi to all my Blog Book Tour cronies – Elizabeth, Galen, Karen, Patricia, Jane and Nancy. Impressive (or worrisome) that you all checked in over the Labor Day weekend. Guess we just can’t stay away from this stuff! Thanks for the feedback.

    Day after Labor Day always conjures up back-to-school feelings and ambitions. This fall, I vow to stay off Spider (hah!) It really is like a drug, or alcoholism – I’m OK as long as I don’t click on that icon, but once I do, there’s no such thing as “just one game.” With FreeCell, on the other hand, I can genuinely limit myself. I play it while I’m waiting for my new e-mail to load, and I have no trouble stopping – maybe because it’s so easy to win.

  6. Boy, did you hit the nail right on the head. I was hopelessly addicted to Spider for a while. Now I’ve moved on to a game on Facebook. I tell myself I do it to relax. Why I need to relax until 3 am some nights is beyond me. I hate it and love it. I related to your line about logging on while your husband is out. I’m enjoying your newly found blog.

  7. I fell half asleep while playing spider.
    As I dozed fitfully I continued to play.
    In my semiconcious state I won. Fireworks and glitter woke me up.

    Tonight I am alert. I just know I will win on the next hand.
    Skinner’s last laugh is wonderful.

  8. I am retired, it’s been two years now! I love playing spider, my best score to date in intermediate level is 104, and I only hit this once. Never play beginner, rarely advanced.

    I never get tired of playing, so I thought, maybe this isn’t normal. I “Googled” to see if there were other people out there experiencing the same conflict or enjoyment. Then I stumbled on “Skinner’s Last Laugh”, by Julie Lomoe.

    I feel much better, knowing I am not alone in my addiction to spider. See I look at it as therapy for the mind, a way to keep my mind active while trying to get through the long winter months in Canada.

    During the summer there’s plenty to do, but even still, I find time to play. I have no intentions of changing, I am very happy to have spider in my life, now that I am retired.

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